TRINITY — Wiregrass Ranch’s 22-game losing streak is still a reality, but its end now looks like a formality.
After winning its spring game, the Bulls again came out victorious in their preseason contest, topping Mitchell 14-7 Saturday morning.
By the looks of new coach Mike Lawrence's Bulls, victories not only are coming, they may become commonplace.
"That's the confidence he's instilled in us," said junior quarterback Shane Bucenell, who threw for 167 yards in three quarters. Junior varsity players from both sides staged a scoreless fourth quarter.
Mitchell was without standout running back Christian Tinidad due to a minor team rules violation. Coach Scott Schmitz said Trinidad will be reinstated next week.
Unfortunately the Mustangs will no longer have Sam Mercer's services. Mercer, a two-way starter with the key role of tight end in the wing-T, was hurt on the first offensive series.
"It's probably a torn ACL. That's a big loss," Schmitz said. "My heart breaks for the kid. He's not just one of the best players but a real leader, and that's difficult to replace."
Mitchell also must figure out who will start at quarterback. Alec Lambert and Taylor Schneider both had some highlights while alternating series, but both were also intercepted (Schneider twice).
Schmitz will decide on a starter Monday and there are no plans to alternate throwers in the regular season.
Wiregrass got off to a fast start as Bucenell hit James Jackson in stride for an 87-yard score on the game's second play. A promising Mitchell drive ended with James Gibson's interception but the Mustangs got it right back in good position thanks to a sack by Levi Oliveto.
Lambert got drilled on his first attempt but got the ball off to Nick Boler for an 18-yard gain and it was Nate Boler getting the tying touchdown from 3 yards away.
The Bulls answered by going 78 yards, a key play coming when Bucenell hit Charbel Faddul for 15 yards on third and 3, and took the lead on Giomani Davis' 7-yard run with 9:43 left in the half.
From there neither team got inside the 20-yard line.
"Better," said Lawrence. "We're still just trying to get better and that's what we did today."
The Wiregrass starters outgained Mitchell 244-102. Mitchell's Will Fairbanks was the leading rusher with 33 yards on seven attempts. Johnny White and Zach Drury had the Bulls' other interceptions.
Trevor Maples paced Mitchell with seven tackles. And Zack Rapaport showed promise on both sides with a QB pressure, pass knockdown and two catches for 34 yards before leaving with an injury.
Schmitz said the Bulls are "nowhere close" to the team they rolled in last year's preseason game. Players like transfer Jordan Mutcherson (6-2, 236) and Yori McMillan (6-0, 250) give Wiregrass a much more imposing feel.
"That's a a much better football team," Schmitz said. "Mike's doing a real good job. He's got them believing in themselves."
For evidence of how much belief, there's this prediction from Bucenell.
"I think we're better than any Pasco County team. Okay, I'll give you we don't play Pasco...so, any Pasco County team on our schedule," he said. "And every Hillsborough Couny team we can put up a fight against."